Follow me on Facebook at The Travel Mom!

Posted in June 2012


The past month has been filled with some pretty incredible experiences. I have met interesting people, learned new skills, and had some intense adventures. This recap of the last eight 49 Before 50 installments features skydiving, hot air ballooning, driving a high performance race car and training at the Houston Texans Facility. I also had the opportunity to learn about ice carving, making salad dressing, caring for animals and shucking oysters. Every person I encountered had a wonderful passion for what they do and I am grateful to have spent time with all of them.

Making friends- with a Cuscus =)

I have always enjoyed couscous and known it as a wonderful food, so when I was invited to prepare a snack for a cuscus and feed it at Busch Gardens in Tampa, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I have family in Tampa and while we were out to dinner, I did what anyone else would do in a clueless situation and put my ten year old cousin in charge of getting on line and finding out as much as he could. From his research, I learned that a cuscus is part of the marsupial family, nocturnal and fairly small.

The Animal Care Center at Busch Gardens is a state of the art facility with a commitment to providing excellent care to zoo-life. The Center is home to medical treatment, diagnostics, meal planning and educational opportunities. I arrived there without knowing anything about a Cuscus and through preparing a snack and feeding him, I was able to interact and learn a great deal. This was definitely a first time experience for me and I am happy I did it as a part of my 49 Before 50.

Hot Air Balloon

I have always been fascinated with flying. As a little girl I would have dreams about running incredibly fast and taking off. I would soar through the sky and it was magical. I came pretty close to matching that feeling with my first hot air balloon ride as part of my 49 Before 50.

Thanks to Magical Adventure Balloon Rides, I was able to experience a sunrise balloon tour over the beautiful Temecula Valley. It lived up to the hype but it was so much more peaceful than I anticipated.

The alarm clock went off long before the crack of dawn because our flights was timed to take off in order for us to be in the air at sunrise. I brushed my teeth, got dressed and sans any makeup or real attention to my hair, I headed out to the South Coast Winery to meet the group. It was cold and I was worried that I would freeze because of the altitude. My hosts assured me that it would be warm in the balloon because it is heat that causes it to fly.

Weather and wind control where the exact lift off and landing take place. We drove to a location that the captain identified as ideal for us to launch. I was surprised by just how huge the actual balloon was and how much the basket resembled something I would serve potato chips in at a Super Bowl Party.

Everyone climbed in and lifted off. I must admit that I felt a momentary smidge of panic as we left the ground. However, soon I felt like we were floating. The further up we went, the more at peace I felt. It was so quiet above the orchards and vineyards, and the scenery was breathtaking. The highlight was definitely when we broke through the clouds and soared above them.

The descent was a little more exciting than the take off as the winds dictated where we landed. There is no real soft landing for a hot air balloon and we were warned to brace for the impact of ground meeting the basket. The captain also prepared us that we would probably bounce back up into the air and it was normal. Once we actually made contact, the crew on the ground physically restrained the basket until some of the air was removed at it would stay put.

Glad I put this one on my 49 Before 50 list because I enjoyed in tremendously.

Ice Sculpting

There are some things that I have wanted to do my whole life. Certain skills I have wanted to learn, thrills that I wanted to seek. However, in all honesty, this next 49 Before 50 experience was not something that I had spent a lot of time thinking about. But, I must admit, that doing it, knocked my socks off.

Reverend Butter is a world renowned, ice sculpture artist. He operates DLG Studios out of Houston and is highly sought after for his work. His sculptures are imaginative, creative and larger than life (just like him).

I arrived at his workshop not sure what to expect since I didn’t really know much about ice art. I was blown away by what I saw. Reverend Butter started with a slab of ice. That’s it. A great big slab of ice. No drawing on it, no designing ahead of time, no planning on paper. He grabbed a chainsaw and he was off. Once Butter carved the initial shape of his sculpture, he lit the blow torch and fine tuned it.

I have never used a chain saw or a blow torch before. Nor had I every witnessed anyone create beautiful art from a slab of ice. In my quest to experience 49 new things before I turn 50, Reverend Butter did not disappoint.

Shucking Oysters with the Pros

The goal of 49 Before 50 is to have 49 new, first time experiences. I have enjoyed each and every one of them for different reasons. I have met really interesting people with different passions. This adventure was no exception as I visited the oldest restaurant in the United States in Boston to learn how to shuck oysters.

The Union Oyster House is a restaurant rich in history and tradition. It also is home to some amazing oysters and people that prepare and serve them. I told several of my pals in New England that I was headed out to shuck oysters and they warned me, with the same intensity as other friends warned me about skydiving, of the dangers of shucking. Some of them advised me to wear a stainless steel glove to avoid cutting my hand. Others regaled me with stories of them knowing someone that punctured the palm of their hand attempting this. I didn’t realize that there was such an element of danger in learning to shuck oysters.

All my fear and worry was immediately calmed by the warm welcome I received when I arrived at the restaurant. The owners and staff LOVE what they do and are very proud of the long standing, cultural icon that the Union Oyster House is. I was escorted behind the oyster bar and my lesson began.

This was hands down, far more challenging than I anticipated. There is definitely a serious technique applied to shucking each individual oyster, My instructor was patient and kind, however, in the time it took me to actually open one shell, he could have probably gone through about a dozen. I learned that there are competitions for shucking and it is an honor to be known as someone who can handle a lot of oysters at rapid speed. I was very good at putting a little cocktail sauce and fresh lemon on mine, but I will leave the difficult task of shucking to the professionals.

Training with the Texans!

NFL training camps kicked off recently. During my travels, I was fortunate to get to have another first time experience by visiting the facilities where the Houston Texans train and see what goes on in a daily workout for a professional football player as one of my 49 things before I turn 50.

Directly across the street from the massive Reliant Football Stadium is the home of the Texans training camp. It is a huge complex with outdoor fields, an indoor, air conditioned bubble, a weight room and all kinds of smaller rooms to accommodate most any need a player many encounter during training.

The PR director referred to the Houston Training Camp as the hottest NFL pre-season experience of any of the pro teams and the facility is set up to make sure any athlete that needs medical attention can quickly access it. One of the first rooms in the building is set up with an examining table and IVs. I was told that players can loose up to 15 lbs of water weight during a single work out so they are equipped to provide intravenous hydration to anyone that needs it. Just outside of that is an area that houses all the machines that the players use outdoors to drink as many fluids as they can. There is no expense spared in making sure that the players medical needs are given first priority.

The indoor bubble is an air tight, full size, football field that not only serves as a hands on training facility but a VIP reception area on game day as well. The close proximity to the stadium makes this location a great draw for people that want to “pre-game”.

I was really blown away that the Texans actually cultivate each piece of the grass field here as well as it is replaced after each game. There really is so much more to preparing for football season than I realized. It was definitely a treat to experience the “behind the scenes at the Houston Texans training facility” for 49 before 50.